Taking up our Cross and Following Jesus
The gospel of Mark is the shortest gospel of the four. Mark was a man who departed from Paul at one time, as we read in the Acts, but later he was recovered and Paul's word as to him is, "Take Mark, and bring him with thyself, for he is serviceable to me for ministry." We have oft been reminded that Mark is the servants' gospel, and as soon as we say 'servants' gospel', many of us may be inclined to tune out and say, 'Well, that's not for me; that's for someone who sits on the platform, who serves in Bible conferences, and so on'.
But not so, dear friends. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy of persons being serviceable to the Master, and I believe it is to such persons that Mark's gospel is addressed, and that Mark's gospel would form and produce. The exercises of faithfulness come into Paul's epistles to Timothy — faithfulness in a difficult time when many had turned away, and the Lord Himself calls persons to faithfulness in these two passages. In 2 Timothy, Paul writes, "Let every one who names the name of the Lord", and here the Lord Jesus calls "the crowd with his disciples." He says, "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." Those who follow Jesus are really naming the name of the Lord. In this verse and in those that follow, the Lord Jesus calls upon persons to willingly give up all for Him and to be prepared to lose their lives for His sake and for the sake of the gospel.
Mark's gospel, thus, has a certain severity to it, in the way that disciples are exhorted, in the way that persons are exhorted to follow in the pathway of the testimony, because the things that the Lord says here are not easy to do. In another gospel, He says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light", but in these two passages we read that following Jesus involves self-denial and reproach. And the Lord speaks solemnly of a person who is not willing to follow in this path. He says, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?" The unbeliever looks at life as a time to traffic and to make gain, to go into some city and spend a year, and traffic and make gain. The object of the first man is to build up his reputation, to become rich, popular, and powerful in this world. That is the objective of man in the world, but the Lord Jesus here is bringing in a character of life, a pattern of life that is altogether different than that: "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."
It says that Moses chose "rather to suffer affliction along with the people of God than to have the temporary pleasure of sin; esteeming the reproach of the Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt." And it says, "By faith Moses, when he had become great, refused to be called son of Pharaoh's daughter." Moses denied himself. He chose "rather to suffer affliction along with the people of God than to have the temporary pleasure of sin; esteeming the reproach of the Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect to the recompense." Well, that is taking up his cross, beloved friends: "Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it." That is the recompense — the saving of our lives. Not only eternal salvation, wonderful and all-important as that is for our souls, but "shall save it" applies now as well — we find, as we take up the pathway of discipleship in this way, that we experience the recompense which the Lord speaks of: "shall save it." We experience the saving of our lives.
And it says, "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man also be ashamed when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." That would be leverage in our souls to take the path of reproach and suffering and of service to the Lord Jesus — taking up His cross. To do so is to imitate the Lord Jesus, because He took up His cross. He went to Jerusalem, and on the way to Golgotha He carried His cross, His own cross. John speaks of that. So the exhortation here is for us to take up our own cross and follow Jesus.
Then in Mark 10, He brings in one person as an example of this. In chapter 8 whosoever is addressed; that is, the Lord is looking for anyone who is ready to follow Him in this pathway. But here in chapter 10, a person ran up to Him, and the Lord really opens up and gives more detail as to what He said in chapter 8. Because here, this man comes and is tested by what the Lord had said in chapter 8, as to whether he's prepared to take this path of self-denial. It says, "He, sad at the word, went away grieved, for he had large possessions." Jesus, looking round, said to His disciples, "How difficultly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" Well, that is a real testing verse to all of us, because we live in a very affluent society. We live in a country that has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and maybe that's a reason why we have difficulty entering into the kingdom of God. Let us consider that. It's in Laodicea that there is lukewarmness, where they say, "I am rich, and am grown rich, and have need of nothing." So this person who comes to Jesus in Mark 10 had large possessions, and he was unprepared for the pathway of committal to the Lord Jesus. But it says, "Jesus, looking upon him loved him." Think of that, friends! Jesus loved such a one, and the Lord Jesus loves those persons in Laodicea; otherwise why would He stand at the door and knock, and appeal to them so feelingly, in view of their having part in communion with Himself?
But the Lord says, "One thing lackest thou: go sell whatever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross." That's the one point of committal, the one point on which he failed, the one point in which he was not prepared for the reproach of the cross. Taking up the cross — think of how the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about the glad tidings: "I did not judge it well to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified", 1 Corinthians 2:2. I suppose the Corinthian saints were very much like this man in Mark 10. They were well off — the city of Corinth was well known for its architecture and was fairly prosperous, and into that setting Paul writes at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, "I did not judge it well to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." And here the Lord says to this man, "Come, follow me, taking up the cross." But he, sad at the word, went away grieved, for he had large possessions.
This is the point at which he turns away from Jesus. The Lord goes on to speak not only of persons who have riches, but also of those who trust in riches. The disciples had a very difficult time accepting and understanding what the Lord had to say. First, the disciples were amazed when He said, "How difficultly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" And then "they were exceedingly astonished, saying to one another, And who can be saved?" when He spoke of those who trust in riches having difficulty entering into the kingdom of God. I suppose the disciples knew what was in their own hearts, the tendency to trust in riches. We all tend to trust in material things, whether they be insurance policies or the comforts that we enjoy — and we thank God for His blessings - but the Lord tells us how difficult it is that those who trust in riches should enter into the kingdom of God. "But Jesus looking on them says, With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." How thankful we are that the Lord goes on to say this, because it makes way for you and I to enter into the kingdom of God!
Let us not trust in the things of this life, not put our confidence in the things of this present age. "Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age." He went off. Perhaps he was enjoying the comforts or the social life of the present age, and he missed having part practically in the kingdom of God.
So Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left all things and have followed thee." And the Lord replies, "Verily I say to you, There is no one who has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, that shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time: houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the coming age life eternal." Whoever is prepared for this way of faith will be compensated. We are speaking, in these two chapters, of the way of faith which the natural man cannot take up; it's the path of committal to Jesus.
"Master we would no longer be
Well, think of His footsteps. As they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem, "they were amazed and were afraid as they followed." Perhaps we have had this sense, as to the way that Jesus is going on before, the way He is leading His flock — His little flock — at the present time. They were amazed and afraid, and the Lord explained to them what was going to take place. It was not a pathway of immediate glory. It involved that He would be mocked, scourged, and spit upon — that He would suffer and die. Mark's gospel presents the suffering way that He went as the true Hebrew bondman. "I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free." That is expressed — "I will not go free" — in these verses as He tells them how they were going up to Jerusalem.
I wonder if we are prepared to take up the path of discipleship to Jesus, to follow in His steps, and to understand the way He went — into death, and that the death of the cross. Are we affected by the way He went, in ignominy, shame, and reproach? There was no outward glory connected with it that man could see. "There is no beauty that we should desire Him", the prophet Isaiah says, yet He went that way in love for you and for me.
So are we ready to leave all things and follow Jesus? There is compensation, not only in this time, but in the coming age life eternal. The pathway of the servant of the Lord — one who is serviceable to the Master in Mark's gospel — is not easy. It means self-denial, following Him in a way that led only to death, yet it has real compensation. There will be persecutions, but the recompense is the saving of our lives and life eternal. It says, "Many first shall be last, and the last first." I suppose that many persons who have a reputation for being followers of Jesus at the present time will no longer be first when they receive the Lord's assessment of their lives at the judgment seat of Christ. Each of us shall receive the works which we have done. The Lord's perfect assessment of each of our lives will be made at the judgment seat of Christ, and many last shall be first. Such would be persons who may not have had a reputation in this life, a reputation among men, perhaps even religiously, and this is just the Lord's simple statement: "But many first shall be last, and the last first."
Let us not look for reputations here in this life; let us not look for a reputation from men, whether for our ability, our committal, or our faithfulness. Let us simply take up our cross and follow Jesus.
For His name's sake.
S. E. Hesterman
Taking Up Our Cross And Following Jesus